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White House chief of staff defends decision to keep Pence on road

White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsAuthor: Meadows is history's worst White House chief of staff Agency official says Capitol riot hit close to home for former Transportation secretary Chao Republicans wrestle over removing Trump MORE declined to say how many people in Vice President Pence’s office have contracted the coronavirus during a contentious CNN interview while defending the decision to keep Pence on the road in the presidential campaign's final stretch.

In response to questioning from anchor Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Durbin says he won't whip votes for Trump's second impeachment trial MORE about the number of positive cases, Meadows said, "We don't give out that kind of information."

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Meadows reiterated the White House’s argument that Pence serves as an essential worker and therefore is permitted to continue campaigning as Election Day looms.

When asked how campaigning is “essential work,” Meadows said, “Well, actually, he’s not just campaigning. He’s working,” citing the administration’s Middle East peace agreement. 

Pence chief of staff Marc Short and adviser Marty Obst have both tested positive for COVID-19. Pence has tested negative for the virus. 

Cases across the country are spiking just more than a week before Election Day. President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE's handling of the virus has been the dominant issue in the campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE hammering the White House over how it has dealt with the pandemic.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said during the interview. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Meadows and Tapper frequently talked over one another during the interview.

Tapper pressed Meadows on Pence’s campaigning, to which the chief of staff responded, “I’m not saying he’s not campaigning. I’m saying that is only part of what he’s doing.”

"As we look at that, essential personnel, whether it's the vice president of the United States or anyone else, has to continue on,” Meadows added. 

Meadows said Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines indicate that essential personnel can do their jobs while wearing a mask. 

“I can tell you that what he’s doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing, and when he goes up to speak he will take the mask off, put it back on,” he said.

Pence held a rally in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday and did not have a mask on while speaking. 

Tapper also confronted Meadows about a New York Times report that said the White House chief of staff wanted to keep news of an outbreak in Pence’s office under wraps, which Meadows said “obviously” wasn’t “a report.”